Ask a Mentor: Practical Advice in Thriving as a Mother Overseas

If there was one thing I wanted during my first term on the field, it was a mentor. Not spiritual mentor -mostly I needed someone who could help me with the practical challenges of homemaking and caring for a family in Africa. Someone who could answer simple but mystifying questions like, “How do you cook cassava?”, “What do you use for bathroom cleaner?” and “What do I do with my 18-month-old on a 12-hour flight?” We have wonderful colleagues on the field who helped when they could, but we saw them only occasionally, and cell service in our area was spotty. I felt very alone in my struggle to figure out everyday life in a foreign land.

I realize now that I am not the only one who feels this need. Many women are struggling with the practical issues of living overseas, without help or advice. It is that need that inspired me to start blogging about the practical issues of homemaking and raising children overseas. And today I want to share an interview with an older M friend of mine, to glean some advice from her years of experience.

******

Jane Anne Gibbs and her husband Bart have over 18 years of experience in West Africa. Starting in 1989 with a 2 yr old and a 2 month old, God gave them a third child after moving to the field. Their first 12 years were in a very remote location, before the days of cell phones and internet. They have also experienced putting their work “on hold” as they spent 8 years in the States for the needs of their children. Join me as we listen to this wise woman!

How did you handle friendships for your children? Did they have a lot of local friends?

Our oldest two did really well with local friendships. I would take them with me to visit in homes, and it would be language practice for me. I had a local girl who was our babysitter, and I would take her with us so that I could teach her what was acceptable for the children to do. Then I could trust her to take the children out certain afternoons to go visiting and play with their friends.

We also allowed local children to come over and play. As my children got older they would go out to play soccer. I didn’t have to worry about them because we lived in such a remote location. There weren’t child predators or busy roads, and if they got lost everyone knew where the white children lived!

One of my favorite memories is of Sundays. There was a local church that I would take the children to on Sunday mornings. Then after church the children would bring their friends home and I would make popcorn and we’d let them watch a movie. In those days there weren’t TVs in every home, so it was a novelty for the children. We soon realized that there were children coming to play that hadn’t been in church, so we made a rule that if you wanted to spend Sunday at the Gibbs house, you had to come to church first!

We did make it a priority to provide expat friends for our children as well. We were part of a homeschooling program in the capital city (3 hours away) that gave them connection with other families. We would travel there once a month and spend a few days in the city. During that time our children had sleepovers and other activities with their expat friends. We felt that it was important to keep that balance between local friends and expat friends.

How did you handle health issues on the field? Are there any key remedies that you consistently fell back on?

The book “Where There is No Doctor” was what we used for everything. We had a colleague who was a nurse, who told us to always have three things on hand – 1) cream for blister bugs, 2) suppository medicines for the children, for when they were vomiting and couldn’t keep anything down, and 3) anti-venom for snakes. Thankfully we never had to use the anti-venom, although we did have a cobra in our toilet once!

We knew to watch carefully for signs of dehydration, and also high fevers. There was good healthcare in the capital city, and mostly our family was healthy.

How did you cook out in the “bush”? Are there any tips or secrets you can share with us?

We brought in a LOT of food from the capital city, because the only vegetables locally were peppers and onions! We planted our own banana and papaya trees, and grew broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, and squash in our garden. We used rice and beans that we could get locally, and also pork. The rest of our food we had to bring in.

We would visit the capital city about every four weeks, so before we went I would make my meal plans for the next month. I would use a spreadsheet to figure out what ingredients I needed and make my shopping lists. While we were staying at our guest quarters in town, I would buy several pounds of fresh meat, divide it into portions, and freeze it. Then I would transport it to our village and put it in our tiny propane freezer.

A really practical question that I would love to know the answer to . . . what do you do about ants in your kitchen? Any tricks?

I actually didn’t have a lot of trouble with ants where we were living. I know you can use a vinegar solution to wipe down your counters. They also sell a special chalk here, that you can use to draw a line around doors and windows that the ants won’t cross.

How did your children do with transitions between the field and the States?

We prepared them ahead of time, and they really did well with the transition on home-leave. But you could tell America was never home for them, Africa was home.

When they were in 10th and 8th grade, we sent our two older children back to live with my mom and go to school in the States. That was a very difficult time for them. It was extremely hard for them to be away from their parents, and through that we learned how important it is for the family to stay together. After a few months, we ended up coming home and helping our oldest daughter work through treatment for depression and an eating disorder. Our dream was put on hold for eight years while we focused on our children.

Something we learned through all of that was that your children will muster along with fortitude because of their parents’ calling, but there can be underlying problems or struggles that you know nothing about. They don’t want to share with you because they don’t want to be the one to disrupt Dad and Mom’s calling. It’s important to continually hear your children’s hearts, whether by family meetings, regular heart-to-heart talks, or whatever. 

The theme at Velvet Ashes this week is THRIVE. Do you feel like you have thrived as a mom and homemaker on the M field? Is there anything you have felt is a key to thriving?

Yes, I do. I really enjoyed my time in the village. I think a lot depends on the quality of time you have to spend in prayer and Bible study. This is much more difficult as a young mom, and you have to make peace with that, too. I think a big key for me was not having internet. Everything was strictly self-entertainment. So that was good for spending time in the Word.

One thing that I regret and that I learned over time was not to put my finger in the brew so much and try to control everything. It’s easy to manipulate too much instead of setting the stage for your child and then letting God direct them. I would worry and try to control too much rather than just praying for them and the situation. We often feel like we need to give God a hand. Don’t try to fit your children into molds, let them be who they are. Don’t focus on forming them into who YOU think they should be. Let go and let God!

*****

Wow! A big thank you to Jane Anne for sharing so much from her life with us. Now it’s your turn, ladies! What practical questions would you like to ask a mentor? What advice do you have for newcomers on the field? Let’s all pitch in and have some good question-and-answer time in the comments here.

Also, please stop by and check out my new blog, TCKmom.com, where I desire to provide a forum for women to share practical advice about life overseas. We all have something to learn and something to share!

Photo Source : Gratisography

6 Comments

  1. Lisa Maxwell February 1, 2015

    Thank you for this post.  I agree having a mentor available to help me be a mom on the field would have sure been a blessing to me these last 7 years raising 4 girls in the Philippines.  Later this year our second daughter will begin college and we will be moving back to the U.S. so that we may continue to be actively engaged in the work of the Great Commission while upholding our commitment to our first ministry as parents.  Although I recognize there will be many challenges in this transition, I don’t feel it is putting any dream on hold.  I don’t want my girls feeling this in any way.  Many people have asked how long we plan on living in the Philippines and we always answer,  “Until God tells us another place.”  Our desire has always been to be obedient to His direction.  It is possible that God may send us back to the Philippines or some other foreign land later on but wherever we are our calling remains the same.

    1. Melissa Toews February 2, 2015

      Amen, we don’t have to live overseas to be obeying God’s call!

    2. Julie B February 3, 2015

      As an MK myself, my parents also went back to the States during my college years (and my brother’s who was13 months younger).  Having my parents nearby was a great blessing as it helped so much in grounding me back into our passport country.  I was in college one year alone while my brother finished high school overseas- it was hard.  I so appreciate my parents and how they prioritized for their family. What a blessing and example they were to me as we raised our kids.  My parents then went back overseas when my children were young and now we are repeating that trend- only we raised our kids in America and were in ministry there,  due to the health needs of one child! Yes- ministry can have many venues- and includes sacrifices – but staying in tune with the children and their needs is a top priority.  Our precious children are His tools to shape our ministry for a specific season of life.

  2. Elizabeth February 1, 2015

    This is a wonderful example of putting your kids’ needs above the “ministry.” I love how she acknowledges that kids feel the pressure not to “ruin” the work, so they might not say what they need, and how they as parents were extra careful to pay attention and ask questions. I really respect their decision to take time off and live in the States, even for years at a time. I can understand why she’s your mentor!

  3. Danielle Wheeler February 2, 2015

    So much wisdom here!  Thankful that Jane Anne was willing to share with us.  Those gems of parenting advice are definitely ones to think on.

  4. Monica February 4, 2015

    So so good.  Thank you.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>